Library employability: obtaining technical or job-specific skills through real life experience

I have recently decided to go ahead with a library postgraduate qualification and have an unconditional place starting in September. I will be doing it part-time, distance learning, while I continue to work 32.5 hours a week. I definitely think that this is the right study choice for me for various reasons.

  • I have already done a Masters, which I paid for using the career-development loan. I have now paid this bank loan off but am therefore ineligible for the new postgraduate student loan scheme.
  • As you may know, I already work in a library. I feel that working in a library while doing the course is the way to come out of a library qualification strongest. I appreciate not everyone is able to enter the sector and be able to do the course simultaneously, but it is in my opinion, the wisest course of action. (an alternative that I feel is equally valuable for recent graduates, is to do the paid traineeship then follow on with the masters but that is not an option for me at this point)

Anyway Activia Training are running a Scholarship competition and here I am, blogging to enter it. You can read about and enter the competition here.

The prompt I have chosen to answer is:

Why is having good technical or job-specific skills important and how will this make you more employable?

Personally I got my work ethic from my Dad. He left school at 16 and was not an academic person, but he has inspired me to work hard and be my true, honest self my whole life. To ‘do my best’. He regularly said all he wanted was for me to ‘be happy’, which can sometimes feel a bit like an unachievable goal, but has given me the angle that academic excellence isn’t the be all and the end all.

I got my first role in a library with no library experience at all. All of my jobs have lead on from the last one, with one element of the role being useful for the next job. I worked retail, which helped me get a receptionist job, and a call centre job, both of which helped me get an office job. NHS temp work helped me get a job in an NHS library, because they valued my understanding of the workforce and hospital environment. They valued my transferable skills, which as a Geography Graduate, I may as well have tattooed on my forehead by now. I had experience of the core day to day expectations of a library assistant, even if I demonstrated them in non-library examples.

I am really excited to finally be doing a library qualification, I have thought about doing one since 2011. Even when I have finally achieved it, I know that what will set me apart from other candidates for library jobs in the end will be my experiences. I have had a paying job in some form since I was 13 and am not above any kind of work. So much of my work experience has been agency work, low paid and unstable, often dull or repetitive, but it has helped me prove my resilience. I have shown I am capable of fitting into different work environments, pitching in, navigating different challenges and being part of different teams with the drive to undertake any challenge. I have proven I can speak to all sorts of people, help identify what they need from a service, and make the process of finding that information accessible to them. Oh wait, that is what librarians do! I have also done volunteering which is a fantastic way to get experience of real world technical skills required at work, in an actual work place. I volunteered in a school library for a year, helping with basic tasks and a few events, and later on in my life, when a role came up as a FE College librarian, I was able to use many examples from that volunteering experience in the job interview, which I was successful in and then offered the job. I know having that work experience was integral to my success. My degree was also appreciated and useful but could not have fully prepared me for it.

Academic qualifications are great but in job interviews, you need to bring real world examples, not just hypothetical knowledge. The library qualification is recognised as a professional qualification and referred to in many person specifications, so I know I will need it to apply for jobs and be shortlisted, yet in a lot of ways it is a benchmarking qualification, a tick box I need to tick. I am excited to expand on what I already know from my experiences of working in libraries, through attending the lectures via e-learning, and connecting with the course leaders and other students on the course, but ultimately it will be my real life experience that will set me apart.

This course expects you to have some work experience of libraries before applying, whether it is paid or voluntary, so it is quite unique in that it values real life experience highly and integral to the process of transitioning from being in library school to securing a paid role in a library. Quite right in my opinion. How do you know a career path is right for you if you have no experience of what it will actually be like! Again, volunteering is a great way to suss this out and provide examples of projects and tasks you have done.

I have always been committed to continuing professional development (CPD) which is valued highly and talked about a lot in the library profession. I believe that I am good enough to apply for senior library roles already, based on my experience, and sometimes over the past few years, I have wondered if I should try and make it in the sector without a postgraduate library qualification, on my own merit. I am motivated and career-minded; continuously learning and developing my skills. I care deeply about what I do in my working life, and the sort of organisation I want to work for, and assess my motivations on a day to day basis. I currently work in an NHS library and absolutely love it. I care so much about what NHS professionals strive to deliver on a 24/7 basis, and by working in the library I can support them and their educational needs so they can be better at what they do.

My personal understanding of the NHS workforce comes from a lot of work experience on the ‘coalface’ of the health service, temping in administrative roles where I have communicated directly with clinical staff and patients and I understand their day to day priorities and pressures. No education could have taught me the experience in making decisions and taking action in the moment, when an urgent fax arrives and I have had to make a call and ensure the doctor can make the right decision based on the information to hand. I have always sought to be a better, more knowledgeable and understanding human being. So much of what I learn is through interactions with people on the job, conversations with colleagues, peers and people who come to use the service I provide at work. I don’t think I will ever stop learning while at work, and I do believe learning through formal education is also a great opportunity and one which I look forward to.

Many of the technical skills I use on a day to day basis at work have become innate, and I do not appreciate them from a theoretical point of view because I just DO them. I learnt and developed my working and technical knowledge over time, under the mentorship of my supervisors and mentors (both in paid and unpaid work), colleagues and the wider library community, through day to day repetition and enhancement, asking questions as they come up. I think the postgraduate course will help me to contextualise what I do and reframe it in a language I perhaps don’t have the confidence to use in job interviews when I describe what I do.

In particular, so much of library work is process-driven and we just love procedures. You can memorise a document on using software or cataloguing stock but nothing is as valuable as doing it, in the moment, talking about it with colleagues and learning from mistakes. Acknowledging this is key to understanding what it is like to work in a team and delivering a reflexive and dynamic service where every single day is different and who knows what question might get asked.

I still do what my Dad advised; I do my best, every single day. Even if some days my best isn’t the best. I feel that I bring as much as I can to the workplace, and with support from Activia I would be able to progress and drive positive change in libraries going forward, in decision making roles using this postgraduate qualification as a springboard without as much of a financial barrier.

Read more about the Activia scholarship here

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Professional Twitter and Mental Health

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Before I begin, this blog post is inspired by some of the conversations that have been taking place in the Mental Health Twitter community: in particular the above tweet.

As someone who has worked in the NHS for quite a while (in non-clinical roles, I should add), and on a personal level, experiences mental health issues myself (I do not currently work in the Mental Health sphere of the NHS, though briefly have) I have definitely noticed what both of the above authors are referring to. I have noticed it in other sectors as well though it is perhaps slightly less damaging outside of healthcare Twitter. I know most librarians reading will surely admit that most of the interactions they have on their professional twitters/library accounts are with their peers, rather than those they provide a service for. If that is the case, who is this social media content for?

I’ve been having some misgivings about the concept of ‘professional twitter’ for quite some time, especially in the past year as I have felt the need to do more work tweets or managed professional accounts and had targets to meet with regards to creating content. By ‘professional twitter’ I mean twitter accounts either set up in a professional capacity to represent a service itself, or tweets by personal accounts that are ‘about work’.

I am currently trying to take a social media break so it seems a bit bleak that I am now going to blog about twitter but I am hoping this will help me to organise my thoughts a little bit.

What with the trend of minimalism and konmari and digital detoxing and all of that, the word intentionality comes up quite a lot. What are the intentions you have when you post a tweet?

  • Maybe you want to share useful information
  • Maybe you want to post a picture to get positive responses
  • Maybe you want to publicly thank a colleague rather than emailing or telling them face to face they did a good thing
  • Maybe you want to prove you are actually working from home, honest
  • Maybe you want to talk about yourself because you are super important aren’t you, definitely, probably.
  • Maybe you want to humblebrag about your super important and exciting career.
  • Maybe you are angry and want to tell people off for doing things wrong, or being legitimately evil and having bad ideas

That wasn’t intended to be a burn list or anything; if I am really honest with myself I have had a lot of these intentions, and I don’t even think they are bad reasons for wanting to do anything. I know most of the time overwhelmingly positive content on social media is PR, I KNOW stuff on social media is staged and filtered and written purposefully for whatever reason.

So yes, I KNOW ALL OF THIS, I can’t bear inauthenticity at all yet here I am finding myself feeling pressured to participate in it and guess what, it HUGELY affects my mental health. Yet, I don’t want to delete Twitter. I remember back in the heyday of Facebook (2007/8 or so?) someone creating a Facebook group entitled ‘if you aren’t on Facebook, you don’t exist’ and it gave me SUCH existential dread. If I delete Twitter (and actually you could interchange this with LinkedIn) will people forget about me, will I be less relevant, will someone else take my old handle and either never use it so I can’t have it back or start some kind of terrible account I fundamentally disagree with. If I really think I only matter or something I do is only valuable if I have told Twitter about it, what does that say about me? What does that say about every day I live through where nothing is worth shouting about. But also, do I really need a colleague I worked with 15 years ago to know what I still think on a day to day basis? Why is that?

My MA dissertation was on Museums using social media to try and engage visitors with their collections and the overwhelming finding was, most engagements were with other Museums on social media or people working or hoping to work in the sector. Not the ‘hard to reach’ audiences (a problematic phrase in itself) that they hoped to be in touch with.

My undergraduate dissertation (can I just shout out to anyone else who did Human Geography and constantly has to battle peoples assumptions that they know about rivers and colouring in and want to be a geography teacher, I do know about colouring in but sadly that was not an element of my degree) was on the use of the internet to build community in a real life geographical location. What I found there was that lots of white middle class people liked to chat with each other on messageboards (this was pre-facebook groups) about litter bins and HMO’s in an area that was actually incredibly ethnically diverse but… wasn’t represented in their little online enclave. *sarcastic pondering face emoji*

So what am I trying to say, I guess I am trying to say that Twitter is a useful information tool. But writing a tweet isn’t doing the actual work. Is writing this blog post any better? I don’t think it is, but it’s something I can read back on when I need to remind myself of what actually matters to me and what feels good in my working life. Social media invariably feels like a kind of a smokescreen blocking out the actual groundwork that matters to service users. I don’t think that means it should stop being used, I don’t think it is a bad thing or a waste of time (unless you are spending too much time on it, not sure what the measurable range of this might be though! I am sure some researcher has done one) but if its purpose is to send out a message so far removed from reality that it does harm to service users (ie. the tweet I mentioned at the top) then that can’t be good. Some prolific tweeters appear to spend most of their time on Twitter and it makes me wonder, what are they doing in the office, what do their colleagues think of them, what AREN’T they tweeting about? Also, if I am one of their service users, is this what I am paying for? (either via subscription or taxes).

I have learnt so much from the internet, but I need to also implement that knowledge and those tools in real life and I am starting to feel like tweeting about them is not the most effective use of my time.

I am still on twitter @ingridboring and will probably stay there (because god forbid I suddenly cease to exist, ha) but I hope to spend more time being a better version of myself irl and if that means I lose relevance online then: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If I am only relevant if I am joining the echo chamber of false-positivity about all the good work I am trying to do, then what does that really mean. I don’t feel good about feeding a false narrative about what it means to be doing the work I do, especially when I know it impacts on my own mental health and is potentially picked up on by service users.

If I want to be awful and relate this back to minimalism (ew don’t worry I hate myself enough already) I could aspire to tweeting more mindfully or intentionally, then this regularly thrown around  William Morris quote will do: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”. 

Honestly, social media is the biggest mental health trigger for me and I need to be real with myself and take steps to feel better so I have the strength to continue to do what I need to get done for as long as possible.

It’s quite scary to put this out here, and so I am going to schedule it and then probably freak out and consider deleting it and pretending everything is totally fine LOLOLOL.

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Oh, ps. I recently read this article on cellphone addiction which really resonated with me too. Some days I literally struggle to walk down the street without looking at my phone or reading a book because of social anxiety and if that starts to impact on me even leaving my house, which I feel it has started to, then something has to stop here.

2018 round up: part 2- Libraries/other non-library work

I continued to work as an Enquiry Services Librarian for the NHS this year, and I started this blog initially to try and document my progress with CILIP Chartership but I have to admit I have decided not to continue with it. I have had a couple of moments throughout the process where I wavered a bit with it. I question a few things about it but the main reason I left was the fact that it’s a qualification with a major caveat in that you need to be a fee paying CILIP member for the rest of your career to use it/display it anywhere. CILIP membership really isn’t cheap and I questioned what I was getting out of it as a part time librarian. I definitely am a massive advocate of CPD so will continue this blog as part of my own reflective practice and career development. I strongly believe you do not need to purchase a membership or pay for education to be capable of doing valuable things in your place of work and continue to learn and improve your existing skills.

Having said that, I did invest in the e-course offered by the ALA lead by Maria T Accardi and entitled Feminist Librarianship: Re-Envisioning Library Work  it was in no way a small amount of money, but at the time I felt an urge to do the Library postgraduate qualification and had a spot on the distance course at Sheffield but some reticence about my ability to do a distance learning course. I had done an online course before with the Open University and didn’t love it, so worried it would be like that. I figured if I enjoyed doing e-learning again it might work out.

I have to say I absolutely loved every minute of the Feminist Librarianship course, probably because I am so passionate and committed to intersectionality and applying it to my work as much as I can. I feel that it was such a great opportunity to reflect on what I do on a daily basis and discuss it with other librarians who were pretty much all from the USA or Canada, I think, but actually I really appreciated their experiences and I learnt a lot. One of the most amazing resources I learnt about was In the Library with the Lead Pipe – which is Open Access so you should check it out it is a complete wealth of information. Many of our readings were from this site.

I did defer my Postgraduate Diploma offer at Sheffield to 2019 and am still undecided on if it is the right choice for me. Money is the issue, rather than interest level. I do love working in libraries and I know I have a lot to offer. I am looking at funding opportunities but also wondering if I am satisfied to remain at my level and develop in other ways, rather than investing in a qualification when being a manager is not my goal in this career. Some more reflection will come I am sure but that is where I am at right now.

Some really nice library things that happened this year were:

I got to attend a regionally organised training day in Leeds on literature searching and I feel so much more confident with doing literature searches than I did this time last year. I could definitely do them a year ago, but it does feel like the best way to improve your skills is to practice and discuss them with colleagues. I really appreciate these training sessions that health libraries put on, and love meeting other health librarians.

I attended a LISNPN event in Manchester, which I already blogged about but honestly, this was such a fantastic experience and I met some of my very favourites on library twitter. Thank you to LISNPN for inviting me, I would probably not have considered myself a new-professional if I hadn’t been invited, to be perfectly honest as like I say, I do not have a LIS qualification and am unsure about doing one for various reasons.

I spent 6 months working part time in education events administration in the NHS, so got to lead on some medical education study days and worked really hard on a 4 day conference in the hospital where I already work in the library. It was exhausting work but I am proud of myself and I learnt a great deal in my time there, particularly with regard to marketing best practice and mail merges! I also got to continue with a project I had been collaborating with the department on, while at the library which ended up getting an award at the LIHNN Christmas Study Day, so that is pretty awesome!

A lot of the work I did in Education Events has helped me improve the offer at the library and also established a dialogue between two departments which were not previously working very closely, so that is really exciting and particularly in the NHS, feels like a massive achievement.

I have started training with The Reader Organisation which has been really awesome. What they do is brilliant and I learnt a lot of new skills in leading group activities and discussions which I didn’t have a great deal of experience with before. I am hoping to use elements of their practice in a series of book groups at the Christie.

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The first book group took place in December and people turned up! I had been very nervous about this for some reason, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We read The Girl with 9 Wigs by Sophie Van der Stap which is a memoir of a cancer patient. We collectively decided to continue the group every 2 months, and to do a non-cancer-related title next time, so in February we will meet again and are discussing The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner.

In Autumn I started a new part-time role on the NHS at 70 project at Manchester University which has been amazing so far. I couldn’t believe it when the role came up, it just seemed like the perfect combination of all my skills and passions and then I was lucky enough to be the person they chose! We have had training from the British Library in archiving and managing audio files which is new for me, within the workplace at least. This has been such an interesting and enriching experience for me so far. I am also getting trained to do oral histories so if you are reading this and would like to be interviewed by me about your experiences with the NHS either as a patient, family of a patient, or as a person who has worked or currently works in the NHS. Please let me know.

So I am still a part time librarian without a LIS qualification, and most of my focus is still on the NHS, while I am at work. I feel like the combination of my roles right now is something I have previously only dreamt of and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to do both of these, but also want to acknowledge that in 2018 I was very hard on myself, I never stopped trying, I worked really hard and some of my non-career goals were overlooked. This year I plan to allow more time for them.

NHS @ Manchester Pride

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It’s been a while since I last updated but I just wanted to update to say I represented the NHS in the Manchester Pride Parade for the second time this year and had a really positive experience. It’s such a lovely atmosphere and the crowd’s love for the NHS section is overwhelming!

I also bumped into a fellow NHS Librarian which is always a nice surprise!

I am hoping to submit my Chartership very soon so more updates on that soon…

Taking Part in a Twitter Journal Club with @ukmedlibs

One of my pieces of evidence for my Chartership is a PDF of a twitter chat, which I took part in back in March 2018. It was a journal club edition of the regular health library twitter chat #ukmedlibs. The full details of the chat including a transcript can be found here on their blog.

I must admit even though twitter library chats seem to be quite popular, I never really feel organised enough to remember them, or most of the time, I have plans outside of work. I do often dip in and out of them and enjoy reading people’s opinions but don’t often take part for the entirety of one. A journal club more focused to me, plus reminded me a bit of a book club, so I felt like this appealed more somehow!

Anyway the experience was a really positive one and I have reflected on it and uploaded it as evidence in the form of a word document of the transcript. I highlighted my tweets and added some reflective thoughts on it and then saved it as a PDF for uploading to the VLE.2018_07_05_16_58_30_Greenshot

The experience has made me feel like I would be interested in taking part in one in the future, especially after going back through it and reflecting on the experience more deeply as part of Chartership. Certainly if another journal club one came up I would absolutely give it a go, as I felt more confident contributing to a more focused discussion like that, rather than stating my opinions on a wider topic area, while I am still learning myself. Still I would definitely recommend it if you fancy getting involved in one. I know #uklibchat is a big one, and of course #ukmedlibs is the one for health librarians.

The next #ukmedlibs chat is on 17th July and is about Open Access so I might lurk around that one as I want to learn more on that topic.

Confession: I want to be great at my job, but the professionalism of it feels like a barrier to me.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in to workplaces even when I know I have the skills and the talents that they want. As a result I have moved jobs a lot, seeking a good fit. The NHS is the one place where I feel valued and part of a massive team. Libraries have always felt like a safe space. Perfect combination right? Even so NHS libraries can feel professionalised. I was following #HLG2018 on twitter and reading a lot of opinions on professional qualifications during the keynote address.

Having already done a ‘professional’ MA that did not lead to work in the sector (museums), I am reticent about doing the LIS MA and suspicious of the opportunities it claims to unlock. I am currently doing the CILIP Chartership (and trying to blog about it too, with varying degrees of success) and so far have realised that Chartership as a professional qualification has not taught me anything I didn’t already know, but I do know now how to talk about what I already knew. So is a professional qualification really going to add value to my CV?

What does a professional qualification really represent?

It can be something that is listed as essential or desirable on an application but honestly if they like you the most out of all the candidates regardless, they will recruit you, I know this for a fact. In which case, it becomes a barrier to people who want to apply but don’t have the qualification or the gumption to apply anyway. It also becomes a barrier when a candidate doesn’t have it, at what cost do they have to do one if offered the role? How will their workplace support them in this pursuit?

Professionalisation though, what is that? Sometimes I think sectors like to seem important and take back control because their skillset is becoming outdated, jobs less prevalent, underfunded or less understood, so they professionalise. It’s a lot of chatting to other people in the goldfish bowl of the same profession about how important what they do is, and how deep and meaningful their development is as professionals – at least  this is very much my experience of doing Chartership so far. Sometimes a professional qualification is a really useful way of bench-marking skillsets. But honestly when you work in a sector long enough and are committed to keeping up to date with developments, brushing up your skills and qualifications and getting to know your library users and what they really want, what exactly can a LIS MA give you. Especially in the UK we need to remind ourselves that education, particularly Postgraduate Education, is a business.

I came from a background where going to university was not expected, and being at university was a massive social challenge. At one point I dropped out and went back to repeat the year, because I found studying at university level incredibly inaccessible and there really was a lack of support, or at least a lack of communication about the support available. I think this experience was a massive impetus in me wanting to work in a role where I facilitate learning and make it more accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Thing is though, I am being faced with the dilemma of, do I need to a LIS qualification to be deemed ‘professional’ in my area. I mean I find that term problematic in this use anyway, because it indicates a person being a certain –level-/ having elevated status somehow. But surely all people who work in libraries are LIS professionals. The job title Librarian and the actual job description/person spec is not a set in stone template either so just because you are a ‘professional’ doesn’t mean you are a ‘librarian’ within these unspoken remits, and vice versa.

So what does professionalism do? I personally see it as a massive barrier, I have education, an MA even, I have worked hard, I care passionately about what I do, yet am I not seen as a professional because I don’t have a LIS MA? Even though that seems very wrong to me, I see it happening. I like to think of myself as being too dynamic and pragmatic to blindly do a qualification because a professional body recommends it. I am obviously not saying that LIS qualifications have no value. I have heard amazing things from people whose work I fully respect, about how their MA has given them so much insight. I have an offer of a PG Dip this September and do plan on trying to do it, but at the end of the day, I am human and I cannot afford to do it without some funding. I am not eligible for the postgrad student loans as I already have an MA, which I got into bank debt to do, and took 5 years to pay off. Should I have to put myself through that all over again for a job? Or should I keep trying without the qualification and see where that gets me. Will I be passed over because I don’t have the qualification even when I have everything else? If I don’t get the MA, does that make me not a professional? Also I don’t love how if you are not a professional you can be a para-professional, which feels quite derogatory, or maybe I am just unprofessional.

I have a lot of love for librarians and what they do, but professional qualifications feel like gatekeeping just like when we have to pay ridiculous fees to publishers to access journals. Do I not get to identify as a professional without paying £££ and giving up my evenings and weekends for two years (if I do it part time, which I have to!). Why is that? Is that because other librarians who have done professional qualifications feel that because they did it, everyone else must do it too? Rights of passage are outdated, my friends. Just because something has always been a certain way… wait aren’t librarians always trying to be innovative and dynamic in their work? Then why not in the entryways to becoming a librarian?

A lot of people who disagree with me seem to be people who have already done it. It’s like, they can’t see past their qualification and critique the system perhaps? Was your LIS MA worth it? Are you now a better person? Did it really make a difference or did you do it to tick a box? Do people who have LIS MA’s get to feel superior, what does the ‘Professional’ version of me look like? I know I did my Museum Studies MA because it felt like the last possible thing I hadn’t tried in my quest to work in museums, and because everywhere kept telling me, I had everything they wanted but the qualification. But what happens if getting the qualification crushes your spirit and passion for the area and ruins it for you? I certainly feel that my MA was transformative but I know if I could turn back time I would not repeat the experience. Masters courses can feel like a dangling golden carrot we offer people who want in to something.

I feel like I have often had to ‘come out’ at networking things as having not done the LIS MA and risk feeling like people may not take me seriously. How much emotional labour and work outside of work do I have to do to feel legit? If I don’t do one, will my peers judge me on the basis of not having one unfairly. Not having one can be for a lot of different reasons, many of which might come under the two ticks, many of which are just the sign of a person who isn’t privileged enough to access professional qualifications, for financial reasons, or lack of time, support, other life things. Do I undertake professional qualifications and become part of the system? Will doing one completely change my opinion of them and experience of the sector? I guess I will find out when I finish Chartership and if I do end up doing a PG Dip.